Tepid shower: do I need a plumber?
April 4, 2005 8:46 AM   Subscribe

The water in my bathroom sink is scalding. The water in my kitchen sink is scalding. The water in my shower is never more than tepid. Please help.

My new apartment in an old building has a shower with one of those single handles that turns on the water and governs temperature. I wondered if someone has installed a no-scald thingie in there but when I tried unscrewing the handle, I couldn't figure out the plumbing at all. I can easily find the pipes going into the kitchen and bathroom sinks, (they have taps underneath to regulate the hot and cold water) but the shower pipes are hidden from me. I've asked neighbors if they have tepid showers, thinking it's an issue of the building having separate hot water tanks for sinks and showers but they don't have this problem. Do I need a plumber? I can stand a tepid shower but I miss hot baths.
posted by CunningLinguist to Home & Garden (21 answers total)
If you have your own water heater, it will likely have two elements with temperature controls. Unscrew the two rectangular cover plates, carefully spread the insulation, and adjust the knobs. If the heater is central, maybe you could convince the manager to reduce the temp.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:53 AM on April 4, 2005

Sorry, misread the problem. Sounds like you could still turn down the heater, but the shower control valve could be put in backwards. Is hot to the left and cold to the right?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:55 AM on April 4, 2005

If you are renting, try calling the landlord first. It may well be an no-scald faucet where the slider has jammed. Or maybe the shower is a long way from the water heater and the pipes are uninsulated, but this is doubtful if you are in an appartment.
posted by kc0dxh at 9:07 AM on April 4, 2005

i had the same problem. my kitchen and bathroom sings could get pretty hot, but my shower had no pressure, and was BARELY lukewarm. it was almost as if i was standing under a garden hose.

seeing as how it was winter when i moved in, i was none too happy.

a talk with my landlord fixed this. he contacted a plumber who made things right, and i didn't pay a dime.
posted by lotsofno at 9:09 AM on April 4, 2005

For some reason, my single-handle shower runs hotter (for a given position of the temperature knob) if the water volume is turned down. Check with your landlord, but while you're waiting, try turning down the flow and see if the shower gets warmer.
posted by Doohickie at 9:18 AM on April 4, 2005

It's likely a temperature limiter in the shower tap itself. With the dial and pull-on type (or dial and lever), there's usually a stop that prevents you from turning the dial too hot.

The bad news is that every manufacturer does this differently. If you can figure out the brand of tap you've got, you might find installation instructions for you shower on their web site. Here's a typical example---scroll down to the section on the second page called "Adjust Hot Limit Stop".

Most mixer knobs are some variation on that theme. There's usually a little metal or plastic stop that prevents the valve from turning too far in the hot direction. You need to figure out how to move it. Post picture here, perhaps? If we saw it we might be able to be more specific.
posted by bonehead at 9:27 AM on April 4, 2005

That's exactly what I was thinking it was, bonehead. I did unscrew the handle but found nothing inside that looked, you know, obvious. I will try again and post whatever picture I can take. (You couldn't see much inside the wall.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:41 AM on April 4, 2005

If your manager could replace the cartridge with a similar one from another apartment, you'd quickly find out if that was the problem. Could be as simple as a broken seal or O-ring, causing cold and hot to mix when they shouldn't.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:48 AM on April 4, 2005

Here are two really unhelpfully bad pix.

My landlord is a &$#@ who won't lift a finger. And my super says it's her responsibility. But a good shower is worth paying a plumber for.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:58 AM on April 4, 2005

CL, I think there is a mixer issue here. We had this situation with our newer shower valves, and a quick dismantling of the faucet and a slight rotation of a gear and we had more hot water than we could handle.

Reading the situation you are in makes me think there is no other explanation - the temp is being limited by the simple fact that you aren't allowing sufficient hot water into the eventual shower stream.

I would take your de-construction a few steps further, or spend what about a hundred bucks for a plumber. I bet there are statutes on scalding that determine why this is happening. You also might call a plumbing supply shop and see if they would tell you what to do, or call the manufacturer.
posted by docpops at 10:44 AM on April 4, 2005

I think there is an answer buried below the grey ring visible behind the handle, FWIW.
posted by docpops at 10:45 AM on April 4, 2005

I had this problem in my house. On the off chance that you have a similar setup, here's what I found:

My water adjust knob was a single knob with a single screw to take it off...just a cheapo platic knob. When I took it off, I realized that I could rotate it and put it back on in a different position. There was some kind of star-shaped thing the knob could fit on in several different positions.

This basically changed how the proportion of hot and cold water were adjusted, and by changing the position of the knob I was able to change the mix to all hot water. Before it was not able to turn far enough around to reduce the proportion of cold water.

It ended up being a simple fix..hope yours turns out as such.

(can't open your flikr links)
posted by jacobsee at 10:45 AM on April 4, 2005

Hmmm, well you guys inspired me to try and fiddle some more and I found there is a plastic thing stopping the dial from going further towards "hot". I can't get at it to move it to see if it will allow more hot water in, but it's definitely there. I'm trying to take the handle off altogether but there seems to be grout or something filling the hole where the screw is.
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:10 PM on April 4, 2005

Usually you have to remove it and reposition it by turning it clockwise/ccw a few degrees.
posted by docpops at 1:17 PM on April 4, 2005

Wow, this is the _weirdest_ thing. The last two times I have spent time at my friend's mother's house, I have noticed that the shower is surprisingly tepid while the sink in the bathroom gets plenty hot. I was planning to post to ask.mefi about this even! What's weirder - looking at CL's pictures, I swear it's the exact same faucet. I'm very curious to see what the fix is :-)
posted by autojack at 1:57 PM on April 4, 2005

I belive most of the folks above have it right that you probably have to open up the single valve and adjust it so you get more warm water flow. It is also possible that there is a shutoff valve that is part way closed. You should be able to find an access panel on the wall behind the shower. Most of the time this is in a closet or carefully hidden behind a panel. You may also want to check to see if your hot water pipe is in any other way clogged, especially if the shower wasn't used for some period of time. I've seen a partial clog in one of the water lines to an old style sink because someone cut the water but left the valve open and spiders clogged the drain with egg sacks.
posted by Numenorian at 2:48 PM on April 4, 2005

I suspect that if you can get the handle off, all will be revealed. If not, post another picture and we'll see.

Are there any manufacturer's marks on the tap?

It could be a partially shutoff hot pipe, as Numenorian suggests, but I do think that the mixer limiter is the most likely candidate.
posted by bonehead at 3:24 PM on April 4, 2005

It's okay. The possibility of a huge clog of SPIDER EGG SACS suddenly dislodging and hitting me in the face has now precluded me from ever taking a shower again. jeez, numenorian!
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:28 PM on April 4, 2005

This is not helpful or anything, but I was very amused by:
That's exactly what I was thinking it was, bonehead.

posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:16 PM on April 4, 2005

The possibility of a huge clog of SPIDER EGG SACS suddenly dislodging and hitting me in the face

Nah. A huge clog wouldn't make it through those little aeratioon holes. Think steady flow of individual eggs, sprinkling down, some of them lodging undetected in your hair-- Oh jeez, now I can never shower again either. *shudder*

CunningLinguist, thanks for asking about this topic. I too have been baffled by the scalding sinks and lukewarm showers. Had no idea it was such a common problem, and so easy (hopefully) to fix.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 6:43 PM on April 4, 2005

Yeah, a shower of individual spider eggs hardly improves matters.....YIKES.

I still can't get at the inner workings of my shower handle damnit! Anyone know a good plumber in Manhattan?
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:48 PM on April 4, 2005

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